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The MOST Theological Collection: A Basic Catholic Catechism

"Part VII: Commandments IV and V"


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Fourth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother."

God commands us to honor parents because we owe them our very being. Jesus Himself gave us the example, for He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them , even though He was God Himself. He also wanted to shows us how God values a good family life, and fulfilling the duties of our state in life. To mold a new child in the image of Christ is a greater work of sculpture than the highest art of Michelangelo.

The word "honor" means especially financial support, though it also includes obedience. This obedience binds only until the child is of legal age. After that he/she is still bound to respect them, and, if they fall into need in their old age, to provide financial support. This is the divine social security system: when we were little they did everything for us; at the other end, it is our turn. If they do not need finances, they surely need psychological support. It is very wrong to put a parent into a nursing home and then seldom visit.

Obedience of course does not bind if a command would be contrary to God's law. Nor does it apply to one's choice of a state of life. Especially sad and sinful is the conduct of some teenagers who come to have contempt for their parents, thinking they do not know much of anything, and showing that attitude. The teenagers should try to see that their judgment is seriously upset by the bodily changes taking place at that age (psychologists would say the somatic resonance to their judgment is damaged by these changes). When they emerge from that period, they will not have such a temptation.

After the death of parents, there remains, indefinitely, the obligation to pray for their souls. St. Augustine in his Confessions, written 10 to 15 years after the death of his mother S. Monica, still asked for prayers for her soul.

Fifth Commandment: "You shall not kill"

1. Justice and charity

The Old Testament taught us to respect life by saying (Genesis 9:6): "He who sheds another's blood, his blood shall be shed, for God made man in His own image." This penalty of course must not be private. The state has been given that prerogative by God. Thus St. Paul wrote to the Romans (13:4):"If you do evil, be afraid. For not without cause does he (the civil authority) carry the sword. He is the minister of God, to carry out wrath against him who does wrong." In the Roman system, the ius gladii, the right of the sword, meant the right to inflict capital punishment. So one who calls it unchristian contradicts Scripture. We may, however, argue whether or not it is a useful deterrent.

Our Lord perfected the old law by warning even against anger, since it may lead in the direction of murder. In itself, anger is a feeling, and is neither good nor bad: it depends on how we use it. If we keep it in proportion to what the case calls for, there is no sin; but our human weakness commonly leads us to go beyond that measure. Ordinarily, anger will be a venial sin. However if a desire for revenge is added, the sin easily becomes mortal.

Our Lord further perfected this law by calling for love of neighbor, that is, of everyone, and even of enemies. Now of course we are not likely to have warm feelings towards all, especially enemies. But love is not a feeling, it is the will, wish, desire for the well-being and happiness of another for the other's sake. We can will good, especially eternal life, to all, even to enemies. At times we may have this love in our will, and still find ourselves inclined to averse feelings towards the other. We need only avoid cultivating or dwelling on those feelings. A silent prayer for the other insures there is no lack of love.

He also gave advice for greater happiness and perfection by the Beatitudes and other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, which we shall see presently.

2. The Double Effect Principle

There are times when we perform one action, and it has two effects, both equally direct, i.e., both branching in a Y pattern from the stem. If only the good effect is intended, and the evil effect is not intended, and if the good and evil at least balance, such an action may be performed.

If the good comes only through the evil effect, the action will be immoral, since then one would automatically will the evil action as the means to the good. If the evil came only through the good, if only the good is intended, and there is at least a balance, the action will be moral.

This principle has many applications in the material that follows.

3. Ordinary and Extraordinary Means of Preserving Life

Since we are not our own, we are God's property, we must take ordinary care of our health with proper food, sleep, clothing, and shelter, plus ordinary medical care.

Even on a single occasion, to take enough alcohol or drugs to seriously damage one's ability to think and make judgments is mortally sinful. As to smoking, we consider whether the gravity of the evil risked (considering also percentages of chances) is balanced by real benefits.

Not all means to cure illness are required. On May 5, 1980 the Vatican Doctrinal Congregation told us that to decide what treatment is required we should consider: the type of treatment, its complexity or risk, its cost, both in money and in physical suffering - and compare these things with the result that can be hoped for, considering the state of the sick person and his/her physical and moral resources.

Risky experimental means may be used with the patient's consent if there are no safer and sufficient remedies. In this way the patient may benefit both himself and humanity.

Of course euthanasia in the sense of direct, intended killing is gravely wrong.

An organ transplant can be permitted if the loss of the organ does not kill the donor or cause a disproportionate risk. In this respect, we note that some surgeons are in a great hurry to take an organ, and do not always check with sufficient care to be sure the patient is truly dead.

Direct abortion is, as Vatican II said (Constitution on Church in the Modern World § 51) "an abominable crime".

Surgery to correct imminent danger to the mother's life from a pathological condition in an organ which will also result in death to the fetus, can be permitted under the double effect principle, if there is no other way. A condition that is merely the result of pregnancy would not justify this indirect abortion. However, with modern medical skill, such a case is hardly to be seen in developed countries.

Direct sterilization is gravely wrong; if one repents and is able without excessive expense and/or risk, he/she ought to have the sterilization reversed. Medical possibilities for that are improving today. Indirect sterilization, done to correct a pathological condition, can be permitted.

Suicide is gravely sinful. However, some actions which may result in death, may be done under the double effect principle. And taking great risks out of charity can be permitted, e.g., to enter a burning building with grave risk to save another's life.

4. War and Peace

War can be permitted only under some conditions: 1)It must be done to correct a grave evil, when all other means fail, 2) the good effects must at least balance the evil effects; this can hardly happen unless there is a well-founded hope of winning. 3)It must be carried out by public authority. 4)There must be no direct killing of noncombatants except where the double effect principle warrants it.

Some voices at Vatican II wanted the Council to say that in modern conditions, the good can never balance the evil. The council refused to say this (cf. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World §§ 77-82). In fact, Pope John Paul II, in a message to a special session of the United Nations for Disarmament said that nuclear deterrence based on balance, not as an end itself or as a permanent condition, could be morally justified (Osservatore Romano, June 21, 1982). This is to be understood thus: 1) The actual use of mass destruction weapons, more than what the double effect principle can warrant, is surely wrong. 2) to have these in place, so as to say in effect,"If you do this, I will do that" is permitted. It is not a lie, since all statements get much of their meaning from the whole context in which they are spoken. But, a statement of a nation in the context of war should be understood to have no definite meaning: it would be foolish to expect a nation to show its hand in that context.

Citizens have a duty to aid their country unless the cause is manifestly unjust. St. Augustine (Epistle 189) told a soldier, Boniface: "Do not think that no one can please God who is a soldier.... Holy David was among these.... So think first of this, when you arm yourself for battle, that even your bodily strength is a gift of God." This can be even a heroic exercise of virtue in fulfilling duty. Of course, only one side can be just in any war.

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